I blew on the steaming hot coffee before tentatively sipping it. Closing my eyes, I savored the warm liquid sliding down my throat.
What had I gotten myself into? Three days on a bike in the wilderness without running water.
This morning, I hadn’t wanted to leave the warmth of my bed. The only thing that piqued my interest was the baseball player I’d met yesterday—the same one from the team picture that caught my eye. There was more to him than blue eyes and hair that curled on the ends. His Southern drawl felt like warm honey flowing through my veins.
“Morning,” a rough voice, scratchy with sleep, rumbled through my chest.
I startled, knowing without looking it was Colin Winters. When he’d introduced himself yesterday, his voice and name forever embedded themselves into my brain.
Turning to face him, his hands were braced on the large butcher-top island counter, his flannel shirt rolled up, revealing strong forearms. His baseball hat curved over his forehead in that way only real ballplayers wore them, his auburn hair curling around the edges. The brim was frayed. Maybe it was his lucky cap, the one he couldn’t bear to part with. Who knew a man wearing a baseball hat could be so sexy?
He straightened, crossing his arms over his chest. “Can I get some of that, or is it only for staff?”
“Some of what?” My brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders this morning.
I’d already cut up a large bowl of fruit and set out platters of bagels, pastries, and muffins for the guests. Orange juice sat in a large pitcher on the island between us.
His lips quirked into a smile as he nodded at my mug. “Coffee.”
My heart thumped in my chest. “Oh, of course. The coffee’s for anyone. Ya know, guests, baseball players, adventure tourists.”
I turned away, hoping he wouldn’t notice the flush on my cheeks from my rambling. Why did this guy affect me so much after years of lukewarm interest in the opposite sex?
I opened the cabinet to get a mug from the top shelf. I reached as far as my arms would stretch, hoping to snag one by the handle. The white tank top I wore under my open flannel shirt slid up. The counter was cool against my heated skin.
“Let me get that for you.”
I shivered at the sound of his voice. Why did his voice have to be so sexy?
He easily reached over me, his chest brushing against my back. Tingles erupted over my skin. There was no one else in the kitchen, and my body was trapped between his and the counter. The edge bit sharply into my skin, further igniting the fire that started between us yesterday.
I turned, hoping to create distance between us. Instead, he was flush against me. He held the mug above my head, his eyes twinkling down at me.
“Thanks.” I swallowed at the feel of his hard body pressed against mine.
“No problem.” His tone was amused as he set the mug on the counter next to my elbow.
I expected him to step back, but he didn’t.
“Have you been on any other adventure tours?” he asked conversationally, seemingly unaffected by my proximity.
“Nope. This is my first.” I was pleased my voice hadn’t cracked or wavered.
“Mine, too.” He fell silent, considering me. “We have to stop running into each other like this.”
I tipped my head to the side. “I have a feeling you’re enjoying this.”
He shook his head, chuckling softly. “I haven’t—”
What had he been about to say? I haven’t been attracted to anyone like this before? I haven’t felt like this around anyone before?
A throat clearing from the doorway prompted Colin to step back, his gaze still locked on mine.
“Am I interrupting?” Kelsey asked, her tone filled with amusement.
Pouring coffee into the mug, I said, “I was just getting coffee for Colin.”
“On a first name basis already?” Kelsey held her mug out to me for a refill, her eyebrow raised.
“We ran into each other yesterday.” I rolled my shoulders back, trying to ease the tension.
“I saved the itineraries from flying away.” Colin’s voice was filled with mirth.
He was enjoying this—Kelsey’s pointed questions—her insinuation that there was something to interrupt.
“Good thing you were there,” Kelsey said to him.
“Yeah, good thing,” I said wryly, pouring coffee into Kelsey’s mug.
She winked at me as I turned to hand Colin his mug.
“Thank you,” he said.
I wondered if he knew how that Southern accent affected me. In my experience, athletes knew their effect on women and used it to their advantage. “Do you need milk or sugar?”
He lifted the cup. “This is good.”
“I guess we won’t be drinking fresh-brewed coffee for a couple of days.”
Colin shook his head. “Instant won’t be the same.”
“Remind me again why I signed up for this?” I leaned back against the counter, sipping my coffee, not expecting an answer.
Henry walked into the kitchen. “Remember? You said working here was going to change your life.”
Having those words thrown back at me was unsettling. I made that declaration to him, not realizing how much pressure those words held.
Colin snagged a muffin off the plate and took a large bite. I tore my gaze away from the way his Adam’s apple moved as he swallowed. Everything about him was sexy—not just his voice, his eyes, or those forearms.
Turning my attention to Henry, I cocked my head to the side. “I cannot see how biking for three days and camping without running water and fresh-brewed coffee will change my life.”
“You never know.” Colin’s accent did nothing to detract from his masculinity. It only enhanced it.
Was Colin insinuating that meeting him could change my life? When Henry asked for my help at the lodge so he could fly to New York to win Kelsey back, I’d told him I wasn’t ready for a relationship. My life was going nowhere fast. There was no point in looking for a guy when I had nothing to offer him. I’d vowed to figure out my life first. I wouldn’t change my mind, not even for a baseball player with a sexy accent.
Henry stood next to Kelsey, pulling her into his side. “I met you when I wasn’t expecting it.”
Kelsey smiled as he nuzzled her neck. “That’s true.”
I placed my mug on the counter, wanting space from their show of affection. “That’s my cue to leave.”
“Don’t go far. We’re heading out in ten,” Henry called after me.
“Yeah, yeah.” I couldn’t help resorting to talking to my brother like I had when we were teenagers.
I sensed Colin grabbing another pastry and following close behind me into the hallway.
Several other players made their way down the steps.
I smiled at them. “Food and drink are in the kitchen.”
I pushed open the door to the front porch where the tour vans were parked, needing the space being outdoors offered. The feel of the crisp morning air and the expanse of the mountains reminded me that the world was bigger than me. There was room to grow.
I sat in one of the rocking chairs, the cool air filling my lungs.
Sitting next to me, Colin cradled the mug in his hands. “You don’t like the outdoors?”
Suddenly, I wanted to be a girl he could be attracted to. I wanted to ignore my vow to focus on myself before getting involved with someone. “I love it. You can’t live by these mountains and not enjoy them.”
“They’re impressive.” He bobbed his head in agreement, his gaze on me, not the mountains in the distance.
“If you like the mountains, you’ll love the tour. We’re going to see a lake, hot springs, and aspen trees.” Excitement tinged my voice.
Despite the length of the bike ride and the camping factor, I was looking forward to what we’d see.
“You don’t seem as put off by the tour as you sounded in there.” Colin’s tone was assessing.
“I’m not.” It was easier to be open with Colin, who was a stranger, than with my family. We didn’t have a history. I could be myself with him.
Colin was quiet for a few seconds before he turned his attention to me. “Why do you want your brother to think you don’t like it?”
I shrugged, not liking the vulnerable feeling I got from letting him see the real me. “Let’s just say my family has their own opinion of who I am. Who am I to change their mind?”
My reasoning didn’t sound as valid when it was broadcast out loud. I sounded like a teenager defying her parents.
Colin’s eyes were gentle. “You aren’t authentic with your family?”
Nothing in his tone was judgmental. He was sincerely trying to understand.
“I guess not. Are you?” I tucked my knee under me, wondering what it was about him that made me want to be honest.
He nodded. “With my sister. We’re close.”
“That’s nice.” The fact that he was close to his sister flowed through my veins like the warm coffee sliding down my throat. I loved the idea of this attractive professional ballplayer being close to his sister.
A fond smile transformed his face. “She lives in Maryland.”
I was impressed he’d stayed close with his sibling, even living far away. “Are you close with your parents, too?”
He chuckled without any humor. “My dad runs a successful hotel chain in New Orleans where we grew up. My mom—” he cleared his throat, “died when I was little.”
“I’m sorry.” His words pierced my heart, setting off a dull ache. My family wasn’t perfect, but they were in my life. I couldn’t imagine going through the loss of a parent as a young child. I wanted to ask how his childhood was otherwise, but his expression was hooded. His family was a heavy subject for him, too.
The door opened, Henry leading the way, loud voices and laughing followed. The guys threw duffel bags into the back of the van.
Colin nodded toward the ruckus. “Looks like it’s time to go.”
Was he grateful for the interruption? Did he feel the need to be honest with me, too?
“I’d better grab my bag.” I stood, already missing the bubble we’d created on the porch.
The quiet morning was now filled with teasing, backslaps, and trash-talking. We probably wouldn’t have another moment alone together on the trip. Standing up to go back inside, I told myself it was for the best. I couldn’t figure out my life if I was wrapped up in a guy.
Walking inside, I ducked around a few guys who were talking about the upcoming bike ride when a hand landed on the small of my back. Looking back, Colin winked at me. I sucked in a breath at its potency.
Guiding me safely past the guys, Colin looked around the great room. “Where’s your bag?”
I pointed to the backpack I’d left on the couch.
“Mine’s upstairs. I’ll grab it, then help you with yours.”
“You know we’re going to be riding with the packs for three days, right?”
He smiled, slow and easy. “It doesn’t mean I can’t help out.”
Something warm settled in my chest as I watched him head up the steps to the guest rooms.
I pulled my phone out of my back pocket, opening the social media account I used to display my photography. I pictured what I’d like to add to the account this weekend and how they’d be received. My followers loved when I added something new. Alpine Lake would be a gorgeous addition to the views of snow-capped mountains over the flat roofs of the downtown businesses, the tall trees, and the rocky streams.
“Those pictures are beautiful. Is that what we’ll be seeing today?”
Not realizing Colin had returned, I quickly clicked off the account that no one knew I had, tucking it into my pocket. “No, just pictures of Telluride.”
Most of the images I’d captured were day trips from Telluride. Today was my first venture farther away. Anticipation flowed through my veins.
Colin grabbed my pack, gesturing for me to precede him. He lightly touched my elbow as we headed out. When we stepped outside into the crisp morning air, he asked, “Which van?”
I pointed to the one farthest away. The driver’s side doors boasted the new Rigby’s Adventure Tours Logo. We’d drive to the drop-off point. Kelsey, Sandy, my parents, and me were driving a van to transport the team. A shuttle would take the team from the hot springs resort to the airport on Monday. My parents would pick Henry and me up.
Colin flung my pack into the back along with his.
I liked that he assumed he’d be riding with me even if we wouldn’t have any opportunity to talk. Not with seven other players riding with us.
“You ready to head out?” Henry appeared by my side.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Despite my excitement, I continued to let my family believe that this adventure wasn’t something I’d enjoy. It was a role I’d played for so long, not letting them see my real interests and desires; it was easy to slide back into it, even with Colin watching me this time.
“The real question is, are you ready for a weekend with a rowdy baseball team?” Colin asked.
I shrugged. “You don’t seem that bad.”
He didn’t seem like the typical cocky athlete. He hadn’t even talked about baseball. He seemed genuine and down-to-earth.
I should have looked him up on my phone when I had the chance. How long had he been with the team? What position did he play? How good was he? Was he talented enough not to worry about his place on the team, or was he fighting for it?
“Follow me and Kelsey.”
“Got it,” I said to Henry as he took long strides to the first van. I let out a breath I’d been holding, wondering why I cared so much about knowing this guy I’d only just met. His face stood out to me in the team picture, and his personality drew me to him.
“You in this one?” one of the guys asked Colin, pointing to the van I was driving.
“Yeah, man.” Then he said to me in a lower tone, “I think this will be more fun than I was expecting.”
I wanted to ask if he’d said that because of me. Frustrated with the thrill that shot through me at the idea, I climbed into the driver’s side, waiting for the guys to get settled. When Henry waved his hand out the door of his van, we followed him in a train down the lane.
The guys were loud, talking smack to each other about their mountain biking abilities. I found myself listening for Colin’s Southern drawl.
The short time we talked made me want to know more about him, but getting involved with a player on my brother’s first big adventure tour was a bad idea. It was exactly the sort of thing my mom would say was impulsive.